Simnuke: Having a Blast in the Nevada Desert

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Over the past weekend, close to 100 people gathered in the remote Nevada desert 100 miles north of Reno to commemorate the world's first explosion of a nuclear weapon — and have a party.

The Simnuke biodiesel blast.

The Simnuke biodiesel blast. Daniel Terdiman hide caption

toggle caption Daniel Terdiman

The event, dubbed Simnuke, was organized by peace activist Camron Assadi to serve as a reminder of the destructive power of nuclear weapons and the growing global proliferation of the technology to build them. It was also a good excuse to have a Burning Man-style gathering in desert of like-minded techno-geeks and activists.

The First Nuclear Test

  • On July 16, 1945, about 260 scientists from the ultra-secret Manhattan Project gathered at the northern end of a barren patch of desert in the Alamogordo Bombing Range -- a site they dubbed "Trinity" -- to set off a plutonium bomb code-named "Gadget."
  • The resulting explosion, with an explosive yield equal to 19 kilotons of TNT, left a hole 10 feet deep and 1,000 feet wide. The resulting mushroom cloud rose more than six miles into the pre-dawn sky.
  • The military reported the blast as an accidental explosion at a munitions dump, and the real nature of the test wasn't revealed to the world until Aug. 6, 1945, when a uranium-based bomb was dropped on Hiroshima.

How do you simulate a nuclear explosion? Begin with a mixture of gasoline and biodiesel, an organically based fuel commonly derived from spent oil from deep fat fryers. Liquid nitrogen pushes the fuel through a complex network of hoses hooked up to a semicircle of six giant fans, spread about 30 feet in diameter.

Cello player Zoe Keating plays music to greet the dawn at the Simnuke site in Nevada.

Cello player Zoe Keating plays music to greet the dawn at the Simnuke site in Nevada. Daniel Terdiman hide caption

toggle caption Daniel Terdiman

At just the right moment, the biodiesel-gasoline spray is ignited by a propane pilot light — and you better stand back, way back...

Just as the sun began to creep over the hills, the desert came alive with a low-pitched boom, an intense rush of heat and a billowing column of orange flame. It was all over in just 18 seconds.

Did the significance of the moment sink in to the spectators? "If any of them got it, I'm happy," says Simnuke technician Argyre Patras.

The project continues with an art exhibition in San Francisco, and organizers will plant 60 trees in the wildfire-scorched hills near Los Alamos, N.M. — one tree for each year since the Trinity test.



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